5 Questions College Students Should Ask Before Buying a Computer

Your college experience won’t be like anybody else’s, and choosing a computer isn’t like grabbing a pair of one-size-fits-all joggers from the store at the students’ union. You’ve picked a major, and you’ve found a roomie. You’ve chosen a meal plan. Now it’s time to ask yourself: What are the factors that will make my college computer best suited for me? 


1. Does It Suit Your Studies?

It’s no surprise that the best laptops for engineering students are different from the best desktops for 3D modeling. When you’re shopping, remember to choose the machine that fits your major. 

If you’re an English major or an agriculture student who’s always in the field, you probably want to find the best small computer for your needs. Creative writers don’t need a beastly CPU, for instance, and they may find themselves better served with a lightweight MacBook Air. If your major requires resource-intensive software – such as high-resolution film editing, 3D rendering or computer-aided drafting – you might need a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro (some models have their own dedicated graphics card) to power through. 


2. Can It Last the Lecture? 

Classes that run for 3 or 4 hours are no joke, and the last thing you need is for your laptop battery to quit when you’re in the middle of taking notes. Think about how much time you’ll spend on your computer when you’re away from AC power.

A MacBook Air, for instance, can stay powered on for about 8- to 12-plus hours between charges when used for normal work. While film students and graphic artists may need a MacBook Pro to run high-end software, the high-res screen and powerful hardware mean you’re likely looking at about half the battery life when doing resource-intensive work. If you plan to be away from an outlet for long periods of time, it may be worthwhile to look into finding a portable charger with enough oomph to keep your laptop running (more on that in a minute).


3. Will It Hold Up? 

Students who need the higher processing speeds and more powerful CPUs of a desktop, such as engineering or computer science majors, sacrifice portability but can worry a little less about durability. With a stationary desktop, just make sure your roommate doesn’t spill whatever’s in that Solo cup. 

Durable laptops, though, are another story. Students in the liberal arts field or who partake in general schoolwork like word processing, Googling, emailing and participating in online lectures can get by with a laptop that lives in a soft backpack or on a safe desk. But if you’re studying environmental chemistry, construction engineering, geology or sustainable agriculture and find yourself going hands-on more often than not, features such as an aluminum alloy casing, Apple Reliability Lab Testing or access to manufacturer-certified repair locations (of which Apple has about 5,000) are paramount.


4. How Should You Accessorize? 

If your computer is the strong foundation of your college toolbox, its accessories are the rooms you build on top. Will you be on the go, but still in need of super-accurate input (i.e., for visual design programs)? A compact wireless mouse might be in the cards. Are you planning to do so much printing that library fees could add up to a little more than nominal? Look into a Wi-Fi-compatible printer.  

For students with hands-on majors, an external battery can more than double the hours their device can stay on for, while a quality laptop case or bag can protect their investment. And just about everyone needs portable storage such as a USB thumb drive or – for data-heavy majors like artists or scientists – an external hard drive. Also, heed any tech recommendations your department makes. If your IT professor says you’re going to need something specific, she’s saying so for a reason.  


5. Is the Price Right?

According to CollegeBoard trends from the 2019 and 2020 school years, the average undergrad spends about $1,240 to $1,460 on books, $1,060 to $1,840 on transportation and roughly $1,810 to $2,400 on other expenses – and that’s not even mentioning the tens of thousands of dollars spent on tuition and housing. So, don’t overlook deals and discounts! Buying a gently used or renewed device that comes with a 50-point inspection and one-year warranty from a company like RenewedMacs can save you money, too – and trust us, you’ll need that money for coffee.   


Apple: Environment 

Digital Trends: Which MacBook Has the Best Battery Life?

The Quad: The Savvy Student’s Guide to Computers for College 2019

Tech Radar: What Kind of Laptop Do You Need for College Work, Really? 

Cornell University: Cornell AAP Architecture Art Planning: Student Laptop Recommendations

CollegeBoard: Average Estimated Undergraduate Budgets by Sector, 2019-20

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